Can I Return My Car to the Dealership?


Have you ever been excited to buy a brand new car only to find out that the added taxes, insurance and other fees bumped you well over the “sticker price”? This leads to car owners getting behind on their auto payments and wondering what they can do to get out of the situation.

Can you relate? Do you simply want to take the car back to the dealership and forget about it? What happens if you can no longer afford the car payments and want to return it to the dealership?

Here are the exact steps you can take.

1. Come to Grips With the Numbers

Some experts say that your auto expense, which includes your car payment, maintenance, and insurance, should not be more than 15-20% of your take-home pay. If your outgoing expenses total more than that, your best bet is to confront the situation head-on and evaluate the solutions.

Take a look at your budget and see where you can cut back on other expenses like eating out, entertainment and frivolous spending. Is there something you can do to increase your income to generate more revenue to catch up on your auto payments?

If you’ve done all you can and you still can’t make the payments on your car, there are several actions you can take:

2. Go Back to the Car Dealer

The first option is to head back to the dealer and see if you can trade in your current vehicle for a less expensive one. You can generally get a great deal on a nice used car that won’t have a huge price tag attached to it.

Thankfully, some car brands and states have friendly return policies, but there’s a chance you’ll still lose out due to the value of a new car depreciating so quickly. You may not get the full amount of what you paid for the car, which means you’ll be responsible for paying off the remaining loan balance yourself.

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3. Sell the Vehicle Privately

Another smart option is to sell the car privately to a colleague or friend, so you can get more money to pay off the large car loan. Most of the time you get a higher price for the vehicle by selling it directly to an individual, than you would if you sold it back to the dealership.

If you still have a remaining balance on the car loan after selling it privately, you could consider taking out a personal loan from a local bank or credit union. This isn’t the best scenario but it’s a smart solution considering the circumstances.

4. Find Someone to Take Over the Payments

Lastly, put out the word that you’re looking for someone to take over the car payments. Do an online search for anyone looking to relieve you of the auto loan balance. Then advertise on sites like Craigslist or eBay Motors to find potential buyers.

This method could save you a lot of hassle of dealing with creditors and the original lender, while allowing you to get rid of the budget-busting car payments. All you have to do is both agree to refinance the auto loan into the name of the new buyer, and you’re all set.

5. Do a Voluntary Repossession

If you’ve exhausted the above options, there’s one last-ditch thing you can do; a voluntary repossession.

A voluntary repossession is where you voluntarily surrender your vehicle (or other property) that’s connected to a loan, in to the lender where you financed the purchase. This generally occurs when you have fallen behind so far in payments that it’s the only option available. This will keep you from having to face creditors and other legal action in the future.

To voluntarily surrender your vehicle to the original lender, you first have to contact the creditor to explain your decision. Let them know you can no longer make payments and wish to surrender the vehicle. Once you’ve let the creditor know about the situation, they will verify the location where you can drop off the car, as well as the details for processing the repossession.

Don’t be surprised, however, if they try to talk you out of doing a voluntary repossession, since they want to continue making money off your loan. Many times they will offer ideas on how you can afford the car, as well as strategies to make the payments on time.

While you may find this helpful, if you truly can’t afford to keep the vehicle then stand your ground and go forward with the voluntary repossession. But before doing so, make sure you understand the entire process:

Will a voluntary repossession affect your credit? Yes, a voluntary repossession affects your credit rating the same way a regular repossession process would. So don’t be surprised if you see your credit score fluctuate during this time period.

Will you still owe money if you turn in the car? If the car depreciates in value to where you owe more on the loan than what the car is worth, yes, you’ll have to personally cover the remaining balance. Even if the original lender agrees to buy back the car, there will likely be an outstanding loan balance due. As mentioned above, you can take out a personal loan, or find ways to increase your income to pay off the remaining loan.

Once you’ve come to grips with the fact that you can’t afford your new car, you’re not stuck with it. There are steps you can take to regain control of your financial situation, without hurting your future too much (and remember, ReadyForZero can help you get your debt under control).

Image Credit: Thomas Hawk

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  • Billiam

    Thanks for the post Carrie.

    How does #3 work? In other words, since the bank still has the title, how do you sign the car sale over to the buyer? How does the buyer apply for a title in their name? Do they just need some sort of sale slip proving change of ownership?

    So then with the car being sold, but still owing the original auto finance bank, you would then pay that bank the new buyer’s purchase price, then continue to make payments on the outstanding balance?


    Also as a side note there are a couple of typos in the article you may wish to edit:
    1) “Do an online search for anyone looking to take relieve you of the auto loan balance.”
    2) There’s a rogue quote character in the first paragraph of #3.


    • Benjamin Feldman

      Hi there, yes, with #3 you would have to get the funds from the private sale of the car and then combine that with money from another source (a smaller loan from a credit union for example) in order to pay off your car loan so the new owner can take the title. Then you might still have a new loan but the balance would be much smaller. Hope that helps! Also, thanks for catching those typos!

  • jonny wish bone

    I recently bought a car and was pre approved by my bank that i only wanted to go threw .i mentioned and made it very clear to dealer ship .they agreed to contact them on mon and get it done seeing i bought on a sun.1 1/2 weeks pass and my banker called to see if i found one .told her he was supposed handle it as i was told.long story short .the dealer not once called her and sent me a payment that was way out of line .i was not happy with the situation. So i told him i am returning this truck..pls call me back has been a month and he just called told him i am droppn of..the gm said no i am stuck this true ..i didnt purchase a return contract ….pls help ..

    • Benjamin Feldman

      Hi Jonny, I’m sorry to hear about this. As you’ve found out, the dealerships are usually not on your side. They like to find opportunities to make more money off of you. So the question in this case is whether you have the right to return the car, since they promised to work with the bank you had mentioned to them. This sounds like a possible legal issue, so I would suggest contacting a lawyer and telling them what happened. They should be able to help you figure out your best course of action. Good luck!

  • bill

    What if you go to dealership with trade in they know you have a title pawn lien on car and they still finance you another car without the title can the dealership get car back

    • Benjamin Feldman

      Hi Bill, I’m not sure how that works, to be honest. I would suggest talking to some people in the auto loan industry to find out what the rules are in that case.

  • Angelica

    Hello, at the time I helped out my boyfriend now ex to get a car out. I helped him with my credit and with the first down payment. This was in mid July 2014 in California. He has been making the payments (roughly by couple of days behind the due date) and got insurance. Now, I want to get my self out of the hole I dug into. I have reasons where I know he wont be able to pay off the car and that he will hit the car. (which already happened on Oct.) We have no communication at all. A month ago on Nov. I send out an email telling him that want to take over the car, he said “no”. Now, can I actually take over the car even though the contract does state that I am the buyer and he is the co buyer and on the car registration has both of our names. Can I do a voluntarily repossession without his consent? Who do I speak to if I go with the repossession of the car to the dealership or finance company? I hope you can answer my question. thanks

  • mariela

    if i volutary reposses my car due to them increasing my monthly payments to almost what we pay for mortage. insane…. ! can i get back the money we spent on it or is it just. lost. and was a waste of money. weve had it for 2 years .

  • Mary

    What’s the longest the dealership will wait if you haven’t made a payment? And will they take my car? If so will I be able to get it back by just paying the payments I owe?

  • Anthony

    If there is s repo guy out for my car can I sell it to a dealer before he is able to get the vehicle?

  • WBM of Arlington

    These are some great tips to alleviate some worries for not getting the full value back! I like how the article mentioned coming to grip with the numbers, usually when that is taken car of the owner can work something out. Great read!

  • Iris

    Even if I do a voluntary repossession? I’m still liable to pay off the loan amount?